Connect with us

Here’s what the Bible says about welcoming refugees



On Friday, Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that placed a stay on refugees from seven Muslim majority countries. Entrance of refugees from Syria, however, will be banned for the next 120 days.

Two days prior to that, he committed the United States to building a wall on its border with Mexico. Soon after the order, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto canceled an upcoming trip to the United States.


President Trump has also proposed that Mexican goods be taxed at the rate of 20 percent to provide funds for building the wall. This would fulfill his campaign promise that Mexico would actually pay for the wall’s construction, in spite of America’s southern neighbor’s protests.

For Christians, the questions about building the border wall or permitting immigrants and refugees into the United States involve a host of associated considerations not just about the specifics of immigration law, the economics of cheap labor coming across the border or potential terrorist threats.

At issue are both broader and deeper questions about what it means to welcome the stranger.

As a Roman Catholic scholar who lived in South Asia for a total of four years, I know what it is like to be initially considered a “stranger” but be quickly welcomed with open arms. And I, like all Christians, look to the Bible for guidance when asking about how to best welcome the stranger.


So, what does the Bible actually say?

We will all be strangers, sometime

The Bible affirms – strongly and unequivocally – the obligation to treat strangers with dignity and hospitality.

In the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the word “gēr” appears almost 50 times, and the fifth book, Deuteronomy, delineates a number of specific provisions for treating “the stranger” not just with courtesy but also with active support and provision.In “Love the Stranger,” an article written for the annual meeting of the College Theological Society in 1991, biblical scholar Alice Laffey stated that in the Hebrew Bible, the words “gûr” and “gēr” are the ones most often glossed as referring to the “stranger,” though they are also translated as “newcomer” and “alien” or “resident alien,” respectively.


For example, the book of Deuteronomy sets out the requirement that a portion of produce be set aside by farmers every third year for strangers, widows and orphans. In the “temple sermon” attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, the Jewish people are exhorted to “not oppress the sojourner.”

Within the Hebrew Bible the requirements of hospitality are sometimes affirmed in very striking ways, as in the story from the book of Judges in which a host offers his own daughter to ruffians in order to safeguard his guest.

Of course, the Israelites themselves were “strangers” during their enslavement in Egypt and captivity in Babylon. The Hebrew Bible recognizes that every one of us can be a stranger and, for that very reason, we need to overcome our fear of those who live among us whom we do not know.


The stranger is Jesus in disguise

Within the New Testament, which Christians read in continuity with the Hebrew Bible or “The Old Testament,” the most often cited passage dealing with welcoming the stranger is from Matthew 25: 31-40.

The stranger is Jesus in disguise. (Waiting For The Word, CC BY)


This section speaks of the Final Judgment, when the righteous will be granted paradise and unrepentant sinners will be consigned to eternal fire. Christ says to those at his right hand that they are “blessed” because


“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

The righteous then ask,

“When did we see you, a stranger, and welcome you?”

Christ replies,


“‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

As Matthew 25 makes clear, the Christians should see everyone as “Christ” in the flesh. Indeed, scholars argue that in the New Testament, “stranger” and “neighbor” are in fact synonymous. Thus the Golden Rule, “love your neighbor as yourself,” refers not just to people whom you know – your “neighbors” in a conventional sense – but also to people whom you do not know.

Beyond this, in the letters written by Paul of Tarsus (one of the most notable of early Christian missionaries), often known as the Pauline “Epistles,” it is made clear that in Christ,

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female.”


From this perspective, being “one in Christ” should be taken literally as acknowledging no fundamental differences in kind among human beings.

Bible is unambiguous in its message

Of course, in Christianity the strong admonitions toward treating the stranger with dignity have coexisted with actions that would seem to indicate an opposite attitude: pogroms against Jews, slavery, imperialism and colonialism have been sanctioned by Christians who nonetheless would have affirmed biblical principles regarding caring for those who seem “other” or “alien.”

Other Christians have taken a diametrically different position, and have called for cities and educational institutions to be set apart as “safe zones” for undocumented immigrants.Indeed, when it comes to the specific questions concerning building a wall on America’s border with Mexico or welcoming immigrants and refugees, some Christians would argue that doing so does not violate any biblical precepts concerning hospitality to the stranger, since the issue is one of legality and, of course, a good number of Christians did indeed support Donald Trump’s candidacy for the presidency.

It is true that the application of biblical principles to contemporary matters of policy is less than clear to the many Christians who have taken opposing sides regarding how the United States should deal with immigrants, undocumented workers and refugees.

However, in my reading of the Bible, the principles regarding welcoming the stranger are broad-reaching and unambiguous.


The Conversation

By Mathew Schmalz, Associate Professor of Religion, College of the Holy Cross

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Trump EU ambassador’s testimony was loaded with ‘extra-damning’ omissions: NYU Law professor



Ryan Goodman, a professor at New York University School of Law, believes that Trump-appointed European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland's prepared testimony before Congress featured several omissions of events that he believes will lead investigators to damaging evidence against President Donald Trump.

Continue Reading


‘Self-centered ego’: John Brennan unleashes on Trump for taking credit for military successes with ISIS



Former CIA Director John Brennan joined with MSNBC host Chris Jansing in expressing outrage over President Donald Trump proclaiming he captured ISIS.

Jansing cited reports saying the president attacked former Defense Secretary James Mattis and said, "I captured ISIS."

"No reported mention of service members," Jansing said about Trump's rant. "I cannot remember a president who did not give credit to the men and women who fought, who bled, who risked their lives and in too many cases always, gave their lives, made the ultimate sacrifice, and then he exits risking the resurgence of ISIS. What does it say to the men and women of the military who have committed their professional lives to this -- to keeping America safe?"

Continue Reading


The View’s Whoopi Goldberg and Meghan McCain wallop Trump’s ‘sexist’ outburst at Pelosi: ‘Grow a pair, man!’



"The View" co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Meghan McCain ganged up on President Donald Trump for horrifically botching the military operation in Syria, and then throwing a tantrum when Republicans rebuked him.

Trump has enjoyed nearly slavish devotion from his congressional GOP allies, but House Speaker Nancy Pelsoi said the president had a "meltdown" during a White House meeting after the House voted to condemn his military withdrawal and abandonment of the Kurds.

"His problem right now too is that social media, everyone can see the atrocities that are happening right now in Syria with the Kurds," McCain said. "It's all over social media, and I have been apoplectic for a week and a half now, and everything we said was going to happen is happening. Our allies are being slaughtered."

Continue Reading
Help Raw Story Uncover Injustice. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1 and go ad-free.